A sort of heavy metal protest song. Words and music (such as it is) by David Harley. I always meant to launch a band called The Grating Deaf for which this would be the opening number, but I never got round to it. When I used to perform this with Rick Brandon, he used to introduce it as “Well, I feel just like a waitress but where will I get one at this time of night…”
Just an acoustic guitar with an electric guitar overdubbed. The full version will probably be completely electric and hopefully much tighter!.
Copyright David Harley 1986
I feel just like a waitress dropping 16 antique china plates (x2)
And no-one laughing but some juggler who never made the grade
I’m a poor wayfaring stranger, a stranger at this end of town (x2)
I never knew how far I’d travelled till the vigilantes rode me down
And it’s dog eat dog when no-one can raise the price of beef (x2)
No-one bites harder than an old man with a brand new set of second-hand teeth
I’m a poor wayfaring stranger, a stranger at this end of town (x2)
I never knew that I was winning till some loser tried to slow me down
If your axe catch fire and there ain’t no water to be found (x2)
You’ll never know you’re hot till some turkey tries to damp you down
It’s front-page news, paranoia on the inside lane (x2)
They might even take your picture
But they’re setting you up and knocking you down
They’re fitting you up for the frame
Also known as Southwind, The Southern Breeze, An Ghaoth Andheas, and so on. Has also attracted quite a few sets of words. Recently crossed my radar when working up some material with a ceilidh band, and I couldn’t resist trying it out. I may well vary the instrumentation for the ‘real’ version, but I quite like it with just guitar (though I’ve overdubbed here).
Sometimes attributed to O’Carolan, but I don’t believe there’s any proof of that, though Greg Clare tells me that it’s often performed along with Planxty Fanny Power (which I believe is O’Carolan) or Planxty Irwin (which is on my to-do list). The Fiddler’s Companion attributes it to Domnhall Meirgeach Mac Con Mara (Freckled Donal Macnamara) and includes Gaelic words and translation as well as much more information.
I find myself in an unusual position. (Steady! Not that sort of position.) I’ve played guitar and/or bass with ceilidh bands from time to time since the 1970s, but have never rehearsed with one until recently.
Which got me thinking that one or two tunes might fit quite nicely into a recording project I’m hatching. This is a sketch only for one possibility. It includes far too many guitars (probably one part would be a bass with just one second guitar to put in some sparse countermelodies) and the actual tune gets buried at some points: it’s just that this has some bits I wanted to keep for reference. I believe the tune was originally recorded in 1909 by Cecil Sharp from John Locke in Leominster. This interpretation is based on a vaguely-remembered recording from the 60s by Jon and Mike Raven. I think this was the record (with Jean Ward): SONGS OF THE BLACK COUNTRY AND THE WEST MIDLANDS.
I’m tempted to buy it, but then I’d have to learn the tune properly. 😉
At the time I wrote this, even being forty didn’t seem something I needed to identify with: all the other stuff seemed far, far away. So not too many biographical clues here. 🙂 In fact, I used to precede it with ‘Love Hurts’ so that you had two diversely miserable love stories together: however, I don’t think I could get away with singing ‘I’m young, I know…’ these days.
An older version with solo electric guitar.
Words and Music by David Harley, copyright 1986
Front tyre blew Tax overdue Picked up A parking fine or two
Gas bill trouble Rent is doubled You say “NOW what’s wrong with you?”
Dentures slipping Nervous twitch 17-year-itch
I’m underpaid and overweight So let’s go and celebrate
Who said life begins at 40?
Kids are listening Separate beds Bitter thoughts In separate heads
Kids are screaming Dogs are howling Milk gone bad We’re out of bread
So I leer at typists Wonder which Might scratch My seventeen year itch
I must have wasted So much time The other side Of 39
Monday morning Bus queue blues MOT Overdue
My head is bursting My eyes need testing Sorry That I snapped at you
Sorry Sorry Always saying sorry Always praying There might be some peace sometime The other side of 65 But would it be so hard to be Another aging divorcee?
Alison and I (among others) ran a folk club in London (at Jacksons Lane Community Centre, Highgate) for a while, and later on lived in the same part of Tottenham for several years. It’s only recently – when we haven’t met face-to-face in decades and now live in different counties – that we’ve started to collaborate on songs, though.
The tune is a variation on a tune that Jean Ritchie used to sing as ‘False Sir John’. I don’t know why, it just seemed to fit the words.
Vestapol (even the name has variant spellings, almost as many as the tune) has a fascinating (if slightly confusing) history. Henry Worrall (1825-1902), an artist and musician who taught guitar at the Ohio Female College, composed a guitar piece apparently inspired by the siege of Sebastopol (1854-1855) and sometimes called ‘The Siege of Sebastopol’ or ‘Sebastopol: Descriptive Fantasie’, or – according to the printout of the sheet music I have in front of me – just ‘Sebastopol’.
Sadly, I can’t read music – well, maybe if it’s simple enough that I can play it on recorder, but that’s about as far as I can go, so I don’t know how close that piece is to the tune I’m interpreting in this video. Compared to this version, played by Macyn Taylor on parlour guitar, not very. That said, this version, played by Brian Baggett “interpreted from the original manuscript…in collaboration with the Kansas Historical Society” is just about close enough to suggest that my version does derive ultimately from the older piece. As does the resemblance of the naming of the later piece, and, even more, the fact that both pieces use the same open D (D-A-D-F#-A-D) tuning, often referred to by blues musicians as ‘Vestapol’ or ‘Vastapol’ (or similar) tuning.
It’s worth noting at this point that Worrall also published an arrangement of a popular piece called ‘Spanish Fandango’ – which, though it’s not without charm, to my ear resembles a ‘real’ fandango rather less than ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ resembles the work of Václav Tomášek – which uses an open G tuning (D-G-D-G-B-D). While I’m not aware that Worrall’s ‘Fandango’ has had anything like the same popularity or influence among blues/ragtime/folk musicians that ‘Sevastopol’ has, it’s notable that this open G tuning is often referred to as ‘fandango’ tuning. And certainly Elizabeth Cotton, who also played ‘Vestapol’, had a very similar tune called ‘Spanish Flang Dang’.
But – returning to ‘Vestapol’ – how did a formal piece apparently intended for the genteel parlours of the US get to my genteel home office/recording studio in the Wild West of Cornwall as a blues-y, train-y, ragtime-ish, clawhammer picking piece?
Stefan Grossman, who put together a three-part video to teach his own version, kind of skates over the issue as barely explainable, though a contributor to a thread on Mudcat points out perfectly reasonably that blacks and whites worked together and blacks worked as servants in the homes of white people: “They heard, they liked, they learned.” And adapted, making the work of other musicians into something of their own. So by the time John Fahey recorded the tune he still called ‘The Siege of Sevastopol’, it had developed into something significantly different Worrall’s tune, and acquired words – Robert Wilkins’s ‘Poor Boy (a long way from home) and ‘Prodigal Son’, later kidnapped by the Rolling Stones.
In fact, I sometimes follow Grossman’s lead in combining ‘Vestapol’ and ‘Poor Boy’ – he was the first person I heard do that, back in the late 60s or early 70s – or tack it onto the end of one of my own songs as with ‘Highway Fever’ here. Or ‘Castles and Kings‘, but not available as a recording right now.
However, on this occasion I decided to quit while I was ahead and just do the instrumental. And hope that it doesn’t measure up too badly to the many fine musicians who’ve taken their own shots at this well-worn but well-loved music.
This is a very young, very bitter song. I was actually playing with it in Garageband recently as a guitar piece, but the words came back to haunt me. I think I may change them, but the arrangement has promise.
(Vocal is a bit ropey: heavy cold…)
Miles of air is all I need
Jab on the starter and pick up speed
Stand back lady and watch me feed my heels
Got to get you out of my head
There’s new juice keeping my motor fed
From today I’m the fastest thing on wheels
You’re birdlime baby
And you should know
You’re bad news baby
Everywhere you go